A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why Teachers Succeed in the Classroom

Teacher and students

Teacher Deborah Apple leads her 11th-grade physiology class at San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School in an activity illustrating how rewards can affect behavior.

What inspires teachers, and how do they inspire students? ED’s regional officers found some common threads as they shadowed educators from coast to coast to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. From a teacher who found her calling while volunteering in Peru to the National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree who uses music to communicate difficult science concepts, the variety of teachers they met spanned all styles and subjects. All of the teachers, however, were united by their passion for their work and dedication to getting the best out of their students. Highlights are below:

  • Thirty-year teaching veteran, Linda Krikorian of Milford, Mass., always finds something positive about the most challenging students: “I try not to leave anyone out; if not, the students fall through the cracks, and as a teacher you never want that to happen.”

    teacher and students

    Paula Williams, Early Learning Teacher at Sheltering Arms Early Learning Center in Atlanta, reviews sight words with her students.

  • Bradley Ashley, Technology Coordinator at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, empowers his students to learn on their own: “I’m not very creative, but the kids are and I get the opportunity to show them ways to be creative. Like the teacher that can’t draw but provides the pen and paper.”
  • Breanna Ratkevic, George B. Fine Elementary School, Pennsauken, N.J., credits a trip to Peru in which she volunteered with children as the reason she pursued the teaching profession: “This experience was so rewarding that I wanted to continue my desire to make a difference in the world.”
  • Ninety-nine percent of Ella Davis’ students at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Ga., passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test. The school was also one of the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.
  • Rachel Jones, 8th grade Science teacher at Brooks Middle School in Bolingbrook, Ill., realized she wanted to be a teacher after 9/11: “That tragedy caused me to take a look at my life and when I did I was not happy and wanted to do something more meaningful.”
  • National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree, Beth Vernon of Blue Springs, Mo., has dedicated her career to finding the best possible medium to make classrooms more “brain compatible” in all STEM subjects.
  • A team of hand-selected teachers in a brand new school, and a leader with deep community roots coupled with the structure of the STRIVE Preparatory Schools adds up to success for children of color living in poverty at Denver’s STRIVE  Prep SMART Academy.  “Our work does not belong to us,” said school director Antonio Vigil, “it belongs to our students and their families
  • Students of Deborah Apple, 11th grade physiology teacher at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School, San Francisco, appreciate the way she uses fun and creative ways to turn every lesson into an adventure. “Ms. Apple keeps it real. She’s honest with us,” said one student.
  • Barbara Isaacson, Head Start teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., summed up the week best with the following statement: “I love teaching, and feel there is no greater joy than to help a student learn something new for the first time and share in their excitement.”

The visits were a reminder of the indelible impact teachers have on students each and every day.   As Secretary Duncan said in a recent blog celebrating our nation’s teachers, “they astound me with what they accomplish…they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.” Teachers give so much and expect so little in return. They deserve our undying gratitude.

Patrick Kerr is Communications Director at the Regional Office in Kansas City and Julie Ewart is the Communications Director at the Regional Office in Chicago.